Mini Fridge Smells Like Chemicals? (Possible Causes and Fixes)

Upgraded Home Team
by Upgraded Home Team
There is nothing more disconcerting than a chemical smell, especially when it appears in something that contains, food, such as a mini-fridge. It is common to smell chemicals in a mini-fridge, but luckily, it is usually because it is new. However, sometimes the chemical smell can be caused by something more sinister like a refrigerant leak, so let’s take a look at how you can tell the difference and fix the problem.

The mini fridge is a smart way to keep things cold in spatially-challenged places, such as dorm rooms or the garage when you’re working on a project.

Unfortunately, occasionally something goes wrong and your mini fridge may give off a chemical smell. This is likely attributed to one of three things: It’s brand new, the scent of chemical cleaners is still lingering, or there’s a leak in your refrigerant.

The good news is that all three are entirely fixable, but first, we have to identify the reason.

Do You Need Appliance Repair Services?

Get free, zero-commitment quotes from pro contractors near you.

The Mini Fridge is Brand New

That “fresh out of the box” smell isn’t for everyone, so you may want to clean your mini fridge and get rid of the odor.

What You’ll Need

  • Gloves
  • A bucket
  • Baking soda
  • Dish soap
  • A sponge

How to Clean Your Fridge

  • Unplug your mini fridge.
  • Mix 1 cup of baking soda with a gallon of hot water.
  • Remove any shelves or drawers out of your mini fridge and wash them with a cloth or sponge. Wash any excess soap off of them and set them aside to dry.
  • Using a cloth or sponge, wipe down the interior of the mini fridge, including the door and the seal.
  • Leave the door open until the inside is dry. Give it at least 15 minutes before replacing the drawers and shelves.

The Smell Remains

If the smell persists after cleaning it with baking soda, try doing the same steps with equal parts vinegar and water. Make sure to give it ample time to air out, though.

The Scent of Chemical Agents Has Taken Hold

If you’ve used a strong solvent to clean your mini fridge, the smell may have permeated into the walls, so you’ll have to clean it.

The above “How to Clean It” section should work to remove the scent of any cleaning product, but some solvents are stronger than others.

Alternate Methods to Get Rid of the Odor

Assuming that the baking soda mixture and vinegar mixture both failed, there’s still hope!

  • Coffee Grounds: This will take longer than every other method, but coffee grounds absorb odors. After you’ve removed the shelves and drawers from the mini fridge, simply sprinkle coffee grounds along the interior and close the door. Wait 24 hours, clean out the coffee grounds, and your mini fridge should be odor-free.
  • Vanilla Extract: Take a bottle of vanilla extract and dampen a few cotton balls. Wipe the insides of the mini fridge with the cotton balls. Vanilla extract is a powerful scent, but it will also remove most other smells.
  • An Open Box of Baking Soda: This is more preventative than removing, but an open box of baking soda at the back of your mini fridge will absorb odors created by chemicals, or food for that matter.
  • Activated Charcoal: If the cleaning didn’t do the job, take a few plastic bags and place activated charcoal into each one. Set the bags inside the mini fridge and close the door. As with the coffee grounds, give it some time before removing the bags. A rule of thumb is that 24 hours will work for most situations, and the chemical agents that lingered should be gone.

Your Refrigerant Is Leaking

If you’ve exhausted all other options cleaning your mini fridge and the chemical smell remains, chances are that there’s a leak in your refrigerant.

The most common cooling refrigerant is Freon, but not all mini fridges have refrigerant to begin with. Check your fridge’s manual to make sure.

If a leak is the issue, a small amount of exposure is safe but it needs to be addressed as soon as possible.

Signs of a Refrigerant Leak

A leak in your mini fridge is similar to a leak in your air conditioning unit, so that may help you identify if that’s the problem if you’ve ever had an issue with your air conditioner.

There are a few ways to tell if this is the problem.

  • Your Mini Fridge Struggles to Keep Things Cold: Unless you constantly leave the door to your fridge open, a possible reason that it would have trouble keeping your food and drinks cold is if there was a leak. While there are other reasons, if this is the case combined with another problem listed, a leak is likely.
  • There’s a Hissing Sound: If there is a leak in the condenser or compressor coils, it’s unlikely that you’ll hear it. However, in the event that you do hear something, it may signify a leak.
  • The Mini Fridge Smells like Nail Polish Remover:  Acetone is a chemical with a powerful odor, a familiar one if you’ve ever used nail polish remover. Freon, and most refrigerants, carry a similarly powerful scent. If the interior of your mini fridge smells like acetone or gasoline, chances are that a leak is present.

How to Find and Fix the Leak

If there’s a leak in your mini fridge, it will be in the cooling coils from the compressor or condenser. Depending on the model of your fridge, these coils are located on the underside or at the base of the back.

Either way, before moving forward be sure to unplug and empty your mini fridge.

  • Remove the Panel: This may require a screwdriver, but you can probably pry off the panel or grill by pushing in on the side and pulling up on the bottom.
  • Locate the Leak: The easiest way is to just use your nose. As stated above, the smell of refrigerant is very strong. The stronger the smell, the closer you are to the leak. You should be able to identify a nick, cut, or hole somewhere along the coil.
  • Repair the Coil with a Patch Kit: Most home improvement or appliance stores sell a patch kit specifically designed for repairing cooling hoses. Follow the instructions that come with the kit you purchased and you should be able to fix the leak.

Keep in mind, though, that these patch kits are temporary fixes. For a more permanent solution, you’ll still need to have your mini fridge repaired by a technician.

Can’t I Fix it Myself?

You could attempt it yourself, but most refrigerants are only sold to a certified technician, and you’ll probably need to refill your coolant after the leak.

Do You Need Appliance Repair Services?

Get free, zero-commitment quotes from pro contractors near you.

Related Questions

Where Can I Get Freon?

If you decide to go ahead and try to permanently fix the cooling coil yourself, you’ll still need refrigerant to refill the gas lost.Since Freon is the most common refrigerant, this article should guide you to the next step.

What do I do to Refill the Lost Freon?

Attach a piercing valve to the condenser of your mini fridge and open it. You may need an adapter but connect a conversion valve and tighten it with an allen wrench or hex key.Assuming that you were able to obtain Freon, or whatever refrigerant your mini fridge uses, simply connect that to the conversion valve and add the needed amount until the gauge reads in the desired range.Be sure to add small amounts at a time to avoid adding too much.

Related Guides

Upgraded Home Team
Upgraded Home Team

We are a team of passionate homeowners, home improvement pros, and DIY enthusiasts who enjoy sharing home improvement, housekeeping, decorating, and more with other homeowners! Whether you're looking for a step-by-step guide on fixing an appliance or the cost of installing a fence, we've here to help.

More by Upgraded Home Team